Comic-Con: DAY 1 Coverage


Greetings from sunny San Diego, California! The geekiest of the geeky have gathered at this oceanside oasis for a non-stop four day celebration of comics, television, film and gaming. As Comic-Con gets underway, we here at hope that our comprehensive coverage gives you a slice of the action (especially pertaining to our forte, science and technology in entertainment) and that through our words and pictures, you feel as though you achieved Nerdvana right here with us. Today’s coverage kicks off with Warner’s highly anticipated motion comics panel, where they debuted world premieres of several motion comics and rounded up top talent in graphic novels to atlk about the direction of modern comics. From there, we will segue to some Battlestar Galactica nostalgia, courtesy of Richard Hatch’s popular yearly panel. This year was devoted solely to fan questions! Our press room coverage of popular shows Psych and Burn Notice will quell your burning curiosities about what’s in store for those shows, and we end the day with Discovery Magazine’s panel Mad Science: The Science of Science Fiction (co-sponsored with the Science and Entertainment Exchange), including writers from Fringe, Eureka and much, much more. We also have our first Comic-Con Costume of the Day, a complete pictorial roundup on our Facebook page and insider interviews gallore from your favorite writers and actors! To read Day 1 coverage, please click “continue reading”.

Motion Comics: Graphic Novel Storytelling in the Digital Age
Moderator: Gregory Noveck (DC Comics)

Panelists: Paul Levits (DC Comics), Dave Gibbons (Watchmen, Batman: Black and White), Paul Dini (Batman: Black and White, Mad Love), Lydia Antonini (Warner Premiere), Dylan Coburn (Karactaz, Superman: Red Son), Stephen Fedasz (Perpetual Notions), and Jake Hughes (director, Watchmen Motion Comic)

Motion Comics Panel:  (from left to right) moderator Gregory Noveck, Stephen Fedasz, Paul Dini, Dylan Coburn, Jake Hughes, Lydia Antonini, Paul Levits and Dave Gibbons.

Motion Comics Panel: (from left to right) moderator Gregory Noveck, Stephen Fedasz, Paul Dini, Dylan Coburn, Jake Hughes, Lydia Antonini, Paul Levits and Dave Gibbons. starts the day by not forgetting the comic in Comic-Con. This is, after all, the event’s 40th Anniversary, which includes a plethora of tributes to and celebrations of the Golden Age of Comics. Our first panel includes several modern-day kings of the graphic novel, who gathered to talk about the art of graphic novel storytelling in the digital age and how the tradition is adapting with the changing times. Motion comics, incidentally, are short-form videos that amalgamate subtle movements, voice-overs, sweeping music scores and stunning comic book artwork to bring an engaging visual experience to life.

Gregory Noveck: How does the new media translate to modern comic fans and new ways of accessing characters?

Paul Levitz: Well I consider it a step on a long journey. I recently went on a trip to MIT, to talk about transmedia, and the conference was full of scientific-type people and cultural analysts. And what they kept wanting to know was how does the media converge, please tell us? Ultimately it all rests in the art of storytelling with all-new strange tools opening up, and it’s a completely experimental process. The challenge is that those [comic artists] brought up traditionally in the craft are wedded to it. They love telling stories on paper, but find it tough to adapt to doing it in a new way with a new medium. Newer guys aren’t bound by what happened before. But we don’t get to the next step without experimenting. So a big thanks to the fans for being here and helping us shape the process to move it forward even a year from now. Motion comics and these new tools don’t replace comics but it’s a new thing!

Gregory Noveck: What entails the technical production process?

Lydia Antonini: You’re asking if DC was using the best writers/artists to make these books? Well we searched the world for the best young animation studios to enhance the original material, we wanted to approach it as new medium, artistically and technically. Most of it was fun conversations between Warner and DC about what art can pop off the screens, what stories are the most exciting and worth telling.

Clip of Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic (12 original episodes available on iTunes)

Gregory Noveck: How did the Watchmen motion comic come about and what were the challenges?

Jake Hughes: Making Dave happy, that was the challenge! I had been doing cut scenes for video games, experimenting with cheaper ways to do cut scenes, and in the process did a comic version of video game. I thought let’s see if we can do this with existing comic, so experimentally, I did the first page of Watchmen (my favorite comic). I had to ask, how do you make that art look nice? I had to convert the sidewalk cracks in the opening panels, animated it, added music, and people loved the end result. So I contacted Lloyd Levin, producer of the live action movie, and they set up a screening of the DVD, they loved it!

Dave Gibbons: I was sent to London to see mysterious footage of the first episode, and I didn’t really know what to think about it. I was certainly flattered to see my pictures move. But does this really need to be done at all? So I showed it to my friends in animation, and they were forensic about analyzing it, but they loved it! As a storyteller, you want people to react that way (“tell me more!”). So the bottom line is that this motion comic is not aimed at dyed-in-the wool old comic book people, but the new generation, and in a new format. They were all totally committed, were going to give it their best shot, and I’m really, really happy with what they’ve come out with. This is for people who wanted Watchmen to be adapted exactly as the graphic novel came out, with 5:40 of total footage.

Jake Hughes: Sometimes, of course, we’d get it wrong and Dave would set us right.

Dave Gibbons: I’d like to point out that the motion comic also works really well on an iPhone because its screen has got the same size as the original panels so that works really well.

Fan question: What was the budget on the first project and do you expect it to be reduced?

Paul Levits: Depends on how many of you fans show up!

Lydia Antonini: Well it’s an evolving art form, so it’s a moving target for budgets, meaning I can’t give you a specific number. 5’40” of high-end work in 13 months is a huge amount of work in a short amount of time. At some point we will make a comic and a motion comic at the same time.

Paul Levits: That will be the turning point moment for all of this, evolutionarily. We don’t know yet what all the tools are to do it right and efficiently, but you’re on a journey to shape the art form.

Clip of Batman: Black and White, Collections 1 and 2

Paul Dini: When I first heard about motion comics, some of the old Marvel Comics instantly flashed in front of my head (as candidates), but when you do it like this, there’s so many stylistic changes you can do, and interpretations of Batman that you can do, you can really give it a different voice. It’s really cool.

Jake Hughes: I have a question for you. Was making the Batman motion comic a different process from Watchmen?

Lydia Antonini: Batman was done by a small studio named Sequence Studios in Vancouver, with Microsoft Shake program, and it was fun to experiment with the black and white panels of Batman. They don’t make this program anymore, but they did some beautiful art with black and white, to really bring the art out, make it pop out on the screen. All 20 episodes are beautiful, but they all have a different look.

Fan: When it came to voice casting for these motion comics, what decisions did you make about one narrator versus different characters?

Jake Hughes: That really changes from project to project….

Lydia Antonini: For Watchmen, Zac Snyder was heavily involved in the project. The formalness that is found in Watchmen helped us get the voice there to convey that, and thinking about how to have the panels look formal on the page, and conversely we cast based on that desire.

Dave Gibbons: What’s next, Watchmen: the theme park? The Rorschach rumle and ride! [laugter] The narrator Tom Stechschulte) brought tremendous talent into it and he was also very into it.

Paul Levits: How differently would you have written the dialogue if you’d known you were writing for the spoken voice?

Paul Dini: Sometimes I was thinking about writing animation, with minimal voice-overs and things like that. With Case Study, I wanted to write like you were reading an interview. If I’d known I was writing for motion comics, I certainly would have experimented more. With animation, it’s minimal, not a lot of talk. That’s the challenge in adapting a graphic novel for animation. At first, I was a little lost, how to introduce certain elements. I think they did a really nice job with it. It brings its own nice tone to it. I have a question. Is there discussion about original motion comics for promoting Warner Brothers releases? Jonah Hex?

Jake Hughes: That’s an awesome idea!

Fan: Were these created specifically for the iPhone?

Jake Hughes: Well, not in our case. Watchmen was shot for 1920 HD, everything was done for high-definition, and that took a lot of time to render for HD, but we downscaled, and it looked great for the small screen, but looks great for the big screen as well. It’s easier to get it small once you’ve shot for the big screen.

Fan: What kind of process is there for weeding out certain characters/stories in interpreting the comics for motion comics?

Dylan Coburn: It’s about being true to the book, first and foremost. As directors that’s what we’re ultimately trying to do. Then you get the voice down. And you do that with voice casting, the voice drives the whole thing, it’s all about the narrative.

Paul Levits: I’d like to also point out that the fans ultimately weed out what works and what doesn’t. The fandom knows what the cream of the crop is in the comics stories, or can at least unanimously pick the top 7 or 8 out of 10. That’s how you winnow down the stories that you want to tell, it’s what the fans want to see. You go to the great creative moments and you try to build from there. But over the years, we got a very good idea of what you guys think and we take it from there.

Fan: Did you think about not having voices at all? Voice talent makes it more animation as opposed to a comic book with animation.

Dave Gibbons: It’s either a reading or a viewing experience. This is a viewing experience. It’s also like reading a comic book the same way you read it in your own home. I was disturbed at how long it takes to read a page of a comic book—less than 10 seconds, which is sobering to me, who spends over 10 days making it. The addition of voice to the media puts it in the control of the artist. This also might evolve into being a spectrum of media.

Paul Levits: Once you have the written word, scaleability becomes a whole different problem, so that is definitely a big challenge to us. Along the way, there’s lots of interesting questions.

Stephen Fedasz: It’s also allowing us to experiment with different styles, allows us to get these stories and styles out to the masses who don’t typically read comics, so they can try something new.

World premiere clip of Batgirl: Year One

Stephen Fedasz: So in this motion cominc, I was trying to tell the same story, edit where you need to, try not to break the lines. It was challenging and exciting.

Fan: Can you discuss the decision to put up the dialogue balloons and have narrations for Watchmen?

Jake Hughes: On the demo, there was no voice over. But recording the voice changed the timing of things (some shots were longer, some shorter). The balloon informs the viewer of who’s doing the talking, because we’re not doing any mouth movements. It also conveyed that you’re looking at a comic book! Sometimes, you don’t need balloons if you have multiple voices, but because Watchmen can be confusing and you only have one voice, that of Rorscach, it helps to

Lydia Antonini: The other Motion Comics are all multiple-voicecast, so it is easier to figure out what’s going on. But with Watchmen, we had to promote this for our international divisions as well, so we had both versions, because if you’ve never read Watchmen, it’s VERY difficult to know what’s going on, because it is a very complicated story.

Fan: Where do you draw the line between motion comics and full animation?

Stephen Fedasz: It comes down to the placements. Sometimes you can give a scream instead of using a facial expression. It definitely depends on the medium.

Lydia Antonini: The Peanut comics are fully animated! If we’re using that strip and animating, then it’s a motion comic. We look at that as the foundation, and the house just needs to honor the suggested movement and the art. It’s very much based on the source material. So that’s why Peanuts is full action, full lypsinch. For many of them, they’re so well posed, that it already sets up the animation, and it’s just a matter of building on top of that.

World premiere clip of Superman: Red Sun

Dylan Coburn: I was so excited to direct and produce this. The challenge lies in the pace and the dialogue. It’s tough when you have a single panel where nothing is happening, but lots of dialogue. When you work in animation, you don’t often get to do stuff that’s hardcore, but this was great. And definitely hardcore.

Jake Hughes: Also edited very cinematically.

Dylan Coburn: I also used split-screen a lot in this motion comic, because it tells the story very well and tells the story in a way that makes more sense. A lot of comic book artists think cinematically, actually, like directors.

Jake Hughes: And as a reminder, DC Comics All Access opens today at DC

Fan: When do you create the original artwork to have more layers and in digital to begin with to save time when adapting to motion comics? Does that happen yet?

Lydia Antonini: Everyone has come to us and begged to layer the artwork to save time on Photoshop for later adaptation, but that moment when the two are being planned for together, that’s for the future. That’s definitely the moment that we’re leading up to.

Paul Levits: And you’re thinking a different way as an artist, a different way of telling the story

My SIGNED copy of Watchmen!

My SIGNED copy of Watchmen! was extremely fortunate to catch up with Mr. Gibbons to chat in brief about the Watchmen: the IMAX Experience movie and his thoughts on comics today. Were you pleased with the Watchmen adaptation for the screen?

Dave Gibbons: Yes, in fact I know all those guys (director Zac Snyder, screenwriters Alex Tse and David Hayter) very well and I was out promoting the movie when it first came out.

SPhD: How do you feel about the state of graphic novels today compared to when Watchmen first came out over 20 years ago?

Dave Gibbons: Oh it’s fantastic! Watchmen was one of the first graphic novels that ever came out, so it was very much uncharted territory, whereas today you have a whole wealth of graphic novels employing advanced techniques and a whole breadth of material. I’m also very happy about the presence of graphic novels in mainstream bookstores today, which was just not the case when Watchmen first came out.

Thanks much to Dave for chatting with us (and for signing my copy of Watchmen)! Watchmen: The Director’s Cut came out on DVD July 21st.

Richard Hatch: Battlestar Retrospective
Moderator: Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica)

Panelists: Bear McCreary (BSG composer), Michael Taylor (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek writer/producer), Kevin Grazier (Battlestar Galactica, Eureka, Virtuality science consultant), and special guests Lucianna Caro (Captain Louanne ‘Kat’ Katraine) and Tom DeSanto (producer, X-Men and Transformers)

Battlestar Galactica retrospective panel:  (from left to right)

Battlestar Galactica retrospective panel: (from left to right) Lucianna Caro, Michael Tayler, Richard Hatch, Bear McCreary, Kevin Grazier and Tom DeSanto

Next, we moved on to a yearly fan favorite: Richard Hatch’s impromptu panel of Battlestar Galactica guests, ranging from actors, writers, and producers on the show. This year’s panel was treated as a retrospective on the collective four seasons of the show, from the musical (with composer Bear McCreary) to the scientific (with science advisor Kevin Grazier) to the written (with writers from the show). This year was also special because the panel graciously opened the floor to solely answering fans’ burning questions.

Fan: Was the story planned from beginning?

Michael Tayler: Yes, absolutely. It wasn’t seat of the pants writing, but rather organic, and we knew where we were going 10 episodes out. Ronald D. Moore had it planned out 4-5 seasons down the road. But we also didn’t kill ourselves to figure out every detail, because then the characters couldn’t surprise you. New Caprica, for example, was such a surprise, a home away from home that didn’t turn out to be what it was.

Tom DeSanto: 9/11 occuring also caused a delay in shooting, and also changed the nature of the plot as it was originally imagined. A lot of ideas were fluid from the old show and the new show. And of course, the big reveal at the end was that the Cylons were being controlled by the human beings.

Fan: This question is for Bear. Are you planning to release more outtakes or extra music?

Bear McCreary: Well, I’ve released an album for every season. Season 4 was released at Comic-Con today, but the best place to grab is at the House of Blues concerts this week. Fans astonish me with how much music they want, and they still demand more. A soundrack for Razor is in the plans, but if people still want more, then we could certainly put together a box set of cues that weren’t good enough to go on the original CDs. You never know. And there will definitely be lots more concerts to come. It’s bombastic and incredible. I’m actually hoping to put out a live DVD in the coming week of these concerts. My ultimate dream is to play “The Shape of Things to Come” at the opera house in Vancouver where we filmed.

Fan: Richard, you’ve been a big part of the whole BSG world. Did you have a say in how your character ended in the show?

Richard Hatch: I’m still hanging out on the tail fin, figuring out if I’m a cylon, I don’t know about you. No. Michael and Ron, they make the decisions, they decide the creative direction. I would have loved to have had creative input, but that just wasn’t how it worked.

Michael Tayler: We couldn’t wait to kill you dude! We were competing!

Lucianna Caro: And I cried and begged [for my character not to get killed off].

Fan: Hi from Vancouver! Thank you for having strong female characters. Are you guys planning to keep that up on future projects?

Michael Tayler: Well, Caprica should be a hint. One thing we’re trying to make clear is that while there’s elements of racism on Caprica, for some reason there’s a lot of gender equality. I don’t think of it as good female characters, just good characters.

Fan: I’ve heard the series borrowed a lot from Mormon theologies? Is this true?

RH: Yes, there was a lot from the Mormon philosophy. Glen Larson (creator and producer of the original series) is Mormon and he weaved that into certain elements of the show.

Tom DeSanto: The name Kobol is from the Mormon religion. But he also borrowed a lot from other theologies and philosophies, for example with people coming down from space and helping us to discover ourselves.

Fan: Are you going to elaborate on Daniel (the boxed cylon)?

Michael Tayler: I can dispell some rumors right now. He is NOT Starbuck’s father. We never anticipated that much interest in that character.

Fan: Who came up with frak?

Richard Hatch: By the way, that did come from the original show, but they changed the spelling for the new one.

Fan: I loved the integration of All Along the Watchtower into the series. That was brilliant! Where was that specific song picked, and are there implications of how that song connects to now?

Bear McCreary: It came straight from Ron.

Michael Tayler: The implication is that it came from Dylan, Ron’s god. The Word of Bob.

Kevin Grazier: Ron had wanted to use it earlier than it did, but it came back later.

Bear McCreary: We always interpreted that the song was out there in the cosmos. Never implied that Dylan wrote it, more handed down from the cosmos. It was implied that Anders used to play this down on the original earth on his guitar. So it was timeless, it didn’t have an era or a time. That’s how we interpreted it. The use of that song still ranks among the most daring and unusual decisions in the show. Ron put it on Kevin’s and my plate to figure out how to get the jump coordinates for the final jump from the song. But the song isn’t catchy. So there were these 12 notes of original music that were integrated into Watchtower. And that was introduced in Season 3, and we suggested that idea in the final episode, that Kara was exposed to it earlier.

Fan: Did you like how Zarek was portrayed in the new BSG?

Richard Hatch: I love this character, but the realities of a show like BSG, is that there are many talented characters and actors, and only 44 minutes of a show, so a lot of scenes got cut out, and a lot of dialogue got cut out. But we had 70something episodes to develop a lot of different characters. I would have loved to see more backstory for Tom, other than the 4 part mini-series where I discovered that hey, I was a good guy!

Kevin Grazier: Other than that whole killing the quarum moment.

Fan: Was race ever a consideration for casting/writing? Or was it the best actor?

Michael Tayler: I don’t think it was a concern, but we’re trying to paint a post-racial world with a lot of variety, just like our own world. Ultimately, we’re always looking for different types, we’re just looking for great acting as a bottom line.

Bear McCreary: I talked a lot with Rekha Sharma, and she loved that she got to play a role where being Indian didn’t matter. For her, that was a big deal and she appreciated it!

Kevin Grazier: I made the argument that given that we have 12 planets with 12 different environments, we could have even MORE diversity than what you saw.

Fan: Richard I loved your books, and the sequels to Battlestar. Are we ever going to see you and Dirk Benedict give a better send off to your BSG 1980 characters?

Tom DeSanto: Well, the show (DeSanto’s original Battlestar remake) we were doing was a bridge between the old world and the new. And the FOX execs (where it was orignially going to air) felt the 9/11 tone of the genocide touched too hard on a nerve, given what had happened. There was never that great war to define who we were, and then we were struck smack dab into that new war that we weren’t prepared for.

Bear McCreary: Where did the Pegasus set come from?

Tom DeSanto: My construction crew from X-Men had started building the BSG sets, so they took a chainsaw to all the vipers because they couldn’t keep all the sets around. But we had these master boat-builders and they took the pieces of foam and bent them around to make the Pegasus set.

Fan: what do you guys think Starbuck is?

Collective group: An angel. That’s just an opinion. There’s no master plan or bible that says that’s what is definitely written.

Fan: How do you guys think they adapted to being cavemen? What if they’d flashed forward only one year?

Michael Tayler: That is an interesting question. I have a feeling they brought certain skills to the table. Maybe there’s mysterious ruins waiting to be discovered and it wasn’t a TV show but a history!

Kevin Grazier: Humanity, 70,000 years after Mitochondrial Eve, was reduced to about 15,000 people, so the fact is, most of them probably died. But there was a great scene in the rolling hills where they blew up all the raptors and they disappeared. For the belly flop, or Adama maneuver, I was remiss to remind them that Galactica would break up, but owing to the coolness factor, go for it!

Fan: How gratifying was it to get to talk to the United Nations?

Michael Tayler: I wasn’t there, I just watched it on C-SPAN. But they replaced the actual countries with the 12 colonies. For me, it was a little scary, because we have real problems! And all the UN people wore their old Cylon costumes. It was scary and gratifying at the same time. And we’ve been invited to work with the UN in solving real world problems!

Fan: How did your music evolve from Season 1 (raw earthy quality) to the full orchestral sound in Season 4?

Bear McCreary: Well, the key is that the writing also changed. It became much more emotional, mystical, as Season 1 reached its end. The end of Season 1 is where we really begin to understand the show. Normally, music is there to remind you what you’re watching and it stays the same. But the producers challenged me to make it different, but to make sense, to always “sound” like Battlestar. From Italian Opera, to drummers, to bagpipes, to Anglo-Saxon signing, strings, and stuff that doesn’t naturally go together musically. Every episode was a chance to experiment and change, and eventually the orchestra became part of the sound. The end was as bombastic as anything you’d hear in a movie score. At the beginning that wouldn’t have worked, but it did at the end. It was a natural process.

Richard Hatch: As a conclusion to this panel, I want everyone to talk about what they’re doing and future projects.

Tom DeSanto: There’s many incarnations to Galactica. If you have stories to tell, and want to celebrate this universe, put them online! Universal is looking at doing a feature of Galactica, but the economics of doing a big film means that you need a wider audience beyond just the TV show, and hopefully someone will pay hommage to both versions of the show, and in the process pay hommage to Star Trek, and I’m going to try to do that, on the big screen.

Kevin Grazier: It was very fulfilling to work on BSG. At the screening of “Daybreak” (the finale), Ron said, “If this was your first job in the industry, sorry, because it doesn’t get any better than this.” I have a book coming out, “The Science of Battlestar Galactica” and it comes out in December, just in time for the holidays. To be honest with you, since I stopped working on the show, I’ve been suffering from withdrawals!

Bear McCreary: I was suffering from the same withdrawals, and that’s why the concerts and fan interactions tend to be really great. In many ways, the show isn’t over for me. I’m also working on Caprica with Michael, so that’s great!

Richard Hatch: BSG has been life-changing for me, always more than entertainment, but about something, about asking who we are, where we come from, where we’re going. I love things that challenge you to think, open your hearts and minds, and show you there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. We find a way to pull together and survive. I want to be a part of projects that do that in the future. Projects that leave me with hope! No matter how dark BSG got, it left you with hope. To that end, I’ve put together a production company. Our first movie is entitled Don’t Let the Sun Get You Crying. I’m also producing a reality show depicting the Hollywood underbelly you’ve never seen, with the journey you go on as an actor to get to the E! True Hollywood Story. Lastly, I just left a relationship of 2 years, I’ve struggled in finding a relationship, and in making it work. So partnered with me, for those of you looking for your Sig-O. It’s hard to find a sci-fi partner out there!

Michael Tayler: Well, I’m working on the BSG prequel Caprica and the pilot of that aired and is available on DVD. We should be set to air sometime in 2010. caught up with Kevin Grazier who we interviewed and the rest of the panel for some pictures exclusive for, including a group shot right up on the stage! (Incidentally, yes those are BSG dog tags I’m wearing. My call sign? Hot Dog!) Check it out:

Richard Hatch (the original Apollo and Tom Zarek on the new BSG) with the ScriptPhD.

Richard Hatch (the original Apollo and Tom Zarek on the new BSG) with the ScriptPhD.

Kevin Grazier (the science advisor to BSG) with the ScriptPhD.

Kevin Grazier (the science advisor to BSG) with the ScriptPhD.

Group shot!  (from left to right) Producer Michael Tayler, Tom DeSanto, The ScriptPhD, Bear McCreary, Kevin Grazier, Richard Hatch

Group shot! (from left to right) Producer Michael Tayler, Tom DeSanto, The ScriptPhD, Bear McCreary, Kevin Grazier, Richard Hatch

ScriptPhD note: spent an hour in the press room with the cast and production talent of Psych and Burn Notice gathering exclusive behind the scenes scoop and spoilers, and we will post pictures for now, but promise to have a full transcript of our roundtables up by next week. Because of the time-consuming nature of transcribing an hour’s worth of interviews for each show, and in order to bring you the most out of our coverage this week, we simply cannot get to it all. Rest assured, however, that we got tons of great scoop on both shows, and promise that the wait is scintillating and will be worth it!

Straight From the Press Room: Psych

Psych talent:  (from left to right) Corbin Bernsen, Maggie Lawson, James Roday, series creator Steve Franks, Dule Hill, and Timothy Omundson.

Psych talent: (from left to right) Corbin Bernsen, Maggie Lawson, James Roday, series creator Steve Franks, Dule Hill, and Timothy Omundson

Psych stars James Roday and Dule Hill

Psych stars James Roday and Dule Hill

James Roday and Dule Hill with the ScriptPhD

James Roday and Dule Hill with the ScriptPhD

[transcript to come--we'll keep you up to date!]

Straight From the Press Room: Burn Notice

Burn Notice talent:  (from left to right) ... and series creator Matt Nix on the bottom

Burn Notice talent: (from left to right) producer Alfredo Barrios, Jr., Seth Peterson, Bruce Campbell, Jay Karnes, Ben Shankman, Michael Shanks... and series creator Matt Nix on the bottom

Burn Notice star Bruce Campbell being very silly!

Burn Notice star Bruce Campbell being very silly!

Burn Notice star Seth Petersen with the ScriptPhD

Burn Notice star Seth Petersen with the ScriptPhD

[transcript to come--we'll keep you up to date!]

Mad Science: The Science Behind Science Fiction
Moderator: Phil Plait (astronomer, Discover Magazine contributing editor and blogger)

Panelists: Jaime Paglia (co-creator/executive producer, Eureka), Kevin Grazier (science consultant, Eureka, Virtuality), Jane Espenson (executive producer, Dollhouse, BSG, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Rob Chiappetta and Glenn Whitman (staff writers, Fringe) and Ricardo Gil da Costa (neuroscientist and consultant on Fringe)

Mad Science:  The Fiction Behind Science Fiction panel:  (from left to right)

Mad Science: The Fiction Behind Science Fiction panel: (from left to right) Caprica and BSG writer Jane Espensen, Eureka creator Jaime Paglia, BSG science advisor Kevin Grazier, Fringe neuroscience advisor Ricardo Gil da Costa, and Fringe staff writers Rob Chiappetta and Glenn Whitman

We ended our Day 1 coverage with a panel that embodies the epitome of what stands for: the intersection of science and entertainment. Discovery Magazine, in concert with the Science and Entertainment Exhange, put together a panel of leading science fiction writers and the science advisors that make their shows happen. What ensued was a riveting discussion about the role of entertainment to educate, philosophy and moral extrapollations of topics covered by these shows.

Brief clip of Eureka

Jaime Paglia: Thanks fans for supporting our show, this past season we’re seeing the highest numbers we’ve ever had, thanks for coming.

Kevin Grazier: I had so much fun at the panel last year, I’ve been looking forward to it all year!

Clip of Fringe

Glenn Whitman: Farnsworth, our character, incidentally, was named after Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of the television, not Futurama!

Rob Chiapetta: I love Comic-Con, because you can drink at 3 PM, and you’re not hallucinating if you see furry creatures walking all around you!

Glenn Whitman: This is the first time I’m on a panel rather than out in the audience so this is really special.

Ricardo Gil da Costa: I want to assure everyone that the neurobiology happening at the Salk Institute is actually a lot more tame than what you see on Fringe!

Clip of Caprica

Jane Espensen: I wish we had something new to show you, but only in the 2nd week of shooting post-pilot material. But we’re wrriting and shooting as much as we can. Hot robot action coming soon!

Phil Plait: Let’s talk about the good and evil of science and how it’s used on television, particularly on Caprica. This idea has been around for a long time. If you could create a duplicate of someone, how would it work? And is it right?

Jane Espensen: We actually had this discussion in writers’ room. How similar it is to downloading, what the Cylons eventually did fifty years in the future. Versus this version where two of you live simultaneously. And we had a big argument about is this afterlife or on the road to afterlife, and how do you squeeze the maximum drama out of that. What I love is that you’re having very ethical and philosophical discussions in sci-fi environment.

Jaime Paglia: In Season 2 of Eureka, Wlater Perkins loses wife, Susan, they buried her and she shows up again in the future. But he is living with a clone of his ex-wife, and had a child with her. Susan discovers this child is genetically hers but has no connection with. Does she have an obligation to this child?

Kevin Grazier: Legally this poses interesting questions too because she couldn’t prove it wasn’t her child in a court of law if she were to reject it.

Glenn Whitman: We’ll do that on Fringe! Season 5! [laughter]

Phil Plait: Transporters—if they destroy you and reinstate you, if you could do that, be dead and brought back to life? Then what happens?

Glenn Whitman: We need to have a Law & Order: Fringe, to debate the ethical issues. I came across this web site that’s actually some company like, and you go there and put assets in escro for a future life for an inheritance. But what kind of proof would they accept when you came back to cash your money?

Phil Plait: In the Fringe clip, they scientists are trying to extract info from a guy who was dead, and it seems a bit like torture. Sci-fi is a reflection of our current standing in our moral decisions. We don’t torture because we don’t get correct info when we do. But imagine if you could torture AND get accurate info? Where does that leave us?

Jane Espensen: we’re thinking about a torture ep for Caprica, and we keep pulling ourselves back, but ethically, we don’t want to promote that. This is one of those places where drama and the real world, you sometimes have to work to make them work together.

Ricardo Gil da Costa: How we extract info from the brain if they’re not willing or dead is actually an interesting question. But there’s a lot of fMRI and brain imaging techniques that are already out there, and we assume that we can outsmart a polygraph. You can really get this information right now. Sometimes you use it in courts. But it’s very tricky to interpret because we don’t understand the brain fully yet. The brain doesn’t lie, but what we get is our biased interpretation. You cannot always directly transpose laboratory advances socially and legislatively.

Phil Plait: In the show, the guy was dead, but do you have the right to your thoughts after you’re dead? What if you could download their thoughts and put instructions?

Jane Espensen: Well you put them into a robot and get it to do what you want. [laughter]

Kevin Grazier: In Caprica, Zoe made the claim that you can download the personality information that you need to rebuild a person from online, so you don’t have to necessarily violate them directly. But is that still a violation?

Jane Espensen: It’s a dicey area. I think we should all worry about being downloaded and put into robots.

Kevin Grazier: Think about all the things that are “out there”, though, and freely available that reflects on your personality and who you are. It’s kind of scary!

Phil Plait: I’ve never been involved in the writing of a TV show. I advised for a children’s show called Zula Patrol, but didn’t develop the storylines. When you’re in the writers’ room, do you find what’s morally ambiguous, and then apply the science? Do you do plot and then science or vice versa?

Jaime Paglia: On Eureka, we look at everything: newspapers, magazines, news, and then come up with our own ideas that are little homages to books and movies. We basically try to find a unique way to approach it. Eureka is a ¼ turn different that makes it fun to explore. Everything depends on how we approach it. We want a story arc for our characters and want them to develop, and then ask what can we marry thematically to advance those developments? Then we pop in a science fiction idea into it.

Kevin Grazier: My interaction is, it depends. Different writers will come to you beforehand, but most people will come to you after the script is written. Remember when we toyed with Attack of the Killer Tomatoes on Season 1 of Eureka?

Glenn Whitman: We’ll do it on Fringe! Season 5! Sometimes we start with the science—recently we wrote about a transgenic animal made into an eight-part beast, and that came from reading articles about real transgenic hybridized and engineered animals. Some episodes definitely come from those science headlines. Sometimes someone will have a crazy idea for an episode, and you better figure out a way to make it work and justify it. Why would someone’s head explode? Because J.J. Abrams thought it was cool, now justify it scientifically!

Kevin Grazier: And usually the response on our end is Oh Cool! or Oh my God! A great example is the Eureka season finale coming up. We worked on that for a long time to justify the science.

Jaime Paglia: I knew what we wanted to happen storywise, because it’s pretty big [story development], but it was one of those moments where Kevin was able to help us out, and it turns out that this theoretical thing was already out there that couldn’t have been more perfect for this episode.

Rob Chiappetta: That’s a double edged sword, because if it already exists, then the producers want you to “think harder on it” and make it work, because they want it to seem made up and implausible. They don’t want to believe that it’s real or that you came up with it too easily.

Glenn Whitman: Sometimes it’s disappointing to hear that it exists, because you want to push the limits of what is out there as a writer.

Ricardo Gil de Costa: I think there is still some cool stuff that is exciting, realistic and not out there. Just recently we were talking for an episode, and using an already-researched application of TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) to inhibit brain areas. So I think we can still do this feedback both ways.

Rob Chiappetta: From an audience perspective, you want to start with something that’s more grounded, “Oh yeah, I think I’ve heard of that” and then take them on the ride. Start with familiarity, easy to understand concepts, because then you get the opportunity to push people’s buttons.

Jaime Paglia: In our show, the manifesto is that we don’t want to cross over into magic, things that are not yet scientifically possible at all. But do you guys on Fringe have hard and fast rules?

Rob Chiappetta: We want to be “science next”, 10-15 minutes into the future as opposed to a year in the future. Visual [appeal] drives our show a lot. We get frustrated because we can do everything you want in terms of the really cool science, just give us more time to explain it [than a 42 minute show].

Glenn Whitman: There are plenty of us in the audience who geek out and think this stuff is really cool when we see it and want those in-depth explanations, but too many people in the audience want the story and tune out the science if it starts getting too complicated. So the trick is to feed just enough that people believe what will happen and want to go along for the ride.

Rob Chiappetta: Show your precedent, show what you want to do, and then show all the things that you want to do to get there.

Glenn Whitman: Rob used to be a lawyer, and he just have a lawyer’s outline for writing. I used to be an economist, so I should come up with a similar manifesto.

Phil Plait: I wondered when you’d have an astronomer on the show, and when you did, he bludgeoned his wife with a tire iron. Is this someone I need to know about?

Glenn Whitman: Fringe is a horror show, partly. Creepy and gross is easier with biology and virology, than astrophysics, usually.

Kevin Grazier: You haven’t hung out with many astrophysicists. [laughter]

Phil Plait: In 1998, Armageddon came out, and the only thing scientifically accurate about that movie is that it had an asteroid and yes, asteroids do exist. But Deep Impact also came out, and that movie was fairly accurate about predicting the future. What scientific breakthroughs will you put in there that you’d like to see or wouldn’t like to see happen?

Kevin Grazier: I can justify the glowing spines from BSG. I’m not going to, but….

Jane Espensen: We’re doing something on Caprica where we’re saying technology is accelerating so fast that it’s not reaching everyone quickly enough. Rich people have robotic butlers, but poor people have answering machines. Instead of reaching for big concepts, we are approaching little bitty things in the high-tech house that would be really cool to have. The little things are as cool as the big things.

Jaime Paglia: We play with that with the character of Sarah, who has had her good and bad moments. We also had people monitoring what technology gets out in the world. Those are the kinds of things that are fun to explore, not as dark as Caprica and Fringe, but good drama nonetheless!

Fan question: Do you ever consult visionaries, because sometimes science catches up to the visionaries. Do you ever look beyond the science to the spiritual to get ideas?

Jane Espensen: We certainly do ask what our wildest dreams would suggest. That is related to that, since their dreams come close to ours. But that’s as close as we go to consulting visionaries.

Glenn Whitman: We thought we were the visionaries!

Fan: We sane fans generally don’t think about trying the science at home. Do you ever worry about disclaimers for those that would?

Ricardo Gil da Costa: It goes both ways. You could have great synergy between these two fields, people like Michael Crichton who certainly do go both ways.

Jaime Paglia: With our shows, we pick normal scenarios that you’d see aywhere, but when you add the geniuses and the technology, that’s what makes it special. You could say, “Don’t create a second sun at home!” but most of those projects that we approach couldn’t create danger or couldn’t even be attempted.

Rob Chiappetta : The general rule of thumb is that if you see Walter do something on Fringe, don’t do it at home!

Fan: What is the correlation between science fiction and science fact: who drives whom?

Kevin Grazier: Yes. [laughter]

Jaime Paglia: Well it depends on the idea… you could read about something in Discover Magazine and say, that would be a great episode.

JE: Also design elements from science.

Kevin Grazier: I work at JPL, and I see two influences: you’d be surprised how many action figures abound in people’s offices. So many scientists go into science because they want to be Captain Spock. But then we get the picketers who are all the conspiracy theorists carrying the placards saying “Tell us the truth!” and it’s like, “We are!”

Fan question: Portrayal of evil robots versus good robots? Why the disproportion?

Jane Espensen: Stories sometimes trump idealism. Killer robots are just a lot more fun to watch. Serge, the butler robot is actually adorable, though on Caprica!

Fan: What does your role as a science advisor entail? How much time does it entail on top of your full-time jobs?

Ricardo Gil da Costa: Very dependant on the project and the show. Sometimes not that much time at all, other times you’re involved from the get-go. I really like my day job, but it’s a great compliment to it to be able to help the writers on Fringe.

Kevin Grazier: I’ve ranged from writing two sentences for an episode, versus spending a lot of time on Eureka developing ideas. But on a show like Virtuality, I did more on that 2 hour episode than for the entire half a season of BSG.

Fan: Are you going to talk about the solar system of BSG?

JE: That will definitely be addressed in Caprica, but Kevin came up with a beautiful system for how these 12 colonies can be so closely put together.

Fan question: Pertinent to BSG and the episode of DS9 that Jane wrote. You try to ground these stories in science and make it believable, but also weave in mystical elements. How do you reconcile those two?

JE: I was talking with my writing staff about this just the other day. I like the mystical stuff being downplayed where the magic is technology. For example, I would say Head Six and Baltar aren’t angels but so advanced that that’s the only explanation we can come up for them. We are so limited that we grasp for magic when it’s physics we don’t understand yet.

Fan: As an educator, I can definitively say we have a problem with communication. We are not taking the mystery out when we explain it. You’re in an important position to be educators working through entertainment. To say “Isn’t this stuff cool” through entertaining stories.

Kevi Grazier: I’m an educator as well. Lots of students are turned off of science because it’s too nebulous for them to understand. But other kids will listen to you because you work in the entertainment industry, because it’s a tool that allows me to talk and have them listen to what I say for an hour so that at the end, they can ask that burning question: “Do you know Tricia Helfer?”

Jaime Paglia: The closer that you look, the more magical the science is. That’s how I think of it. Heck, I want to know how my iPhone works because it’s magic to me!

Rob Chiappetta: Science and technology is such a forefront in our pop culture, that you have people now like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as people who are making a difference and people want to hear from them and what they have to say. So that’s why on our show we have scientists and engineers who are portrayed as trying to figure out how stuff works. And more importantly, they’re normal, real people. All we have to do [to promote science and scientists] is show people living lives as scientists and they’re real people too: husbands, fathers, in relationships. That they do their jobs but then go home at night and live real lives. That’s the one thing that we can really bring to scientific education. I can be an inventor and a hero and be a helpful part of society. That’s an important message for us to be bringing across every medium: video games, movies. That today’s heroes aren’t ballplayers or movie stars, but techies and engineers.

Phil Plait: And on that note, let’s end with a pertinent quote to our discussion: “It does no harm to a sunset to know a little bit about it. –Carl Sagan” caught up to Jane Espensen, showrunner of Caprica, writer on BSG, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, to get exclusive scoop for the upcoming season of Caprica:

Jane Espensen dishes with the ScriptPhD.

Jane Espensen dishes with the ScriptPhD.

ScriptPhD: Are you guys going to go into the religious monotheism and where that stems from for the original three students in the pilot (including Zoe the avatar)?

JE: Yes, we absolutely will! But there is a lot of that explored with their mentor and school headmistress, who really got them involved with the one god philosophy. But we definitely touch on the idea of where that stemmed from and what are really the roots of the Cylon monotheism culture. Where did that really stem from?

We also caught up with Glenn Whitman, staff writer on Fringe and chatted about some exclusive scoop. He was nice enough to oblige!

What exclusive Fringe scoop can you give to that isn’t out there but that won’t get you into trouble with your bosses?

GW: [laughs] Oh I have to think about that one! OK, well, next season, I can definitely tell you that we are going to be exploring the relationship between Peter and Walter, the father-son relationship and going much more into what drives those two. We love their relationship and dynamic and can’t wait to explore that!

That’s it from Day 1, folks! Same bat time, same bat channel tomorrow. But before I leave…. I believe I promised you guys a Comic-Con Costume of the Day:

Compensating for something?  Oh the phallic fun!  Batman pokes his gun at a lucky lady while another feminine superhero stands in the wings.

Compensating for something? Oh the phallic fun! Batman pokes his gun at a lucky lady while another feminine superhero stands waiting in the wings.

It was a tough choice out of the many…er…unusual outfits we snapped photos of today, but remember, you can find all of our pictures as supplementary coverage on our Facebook page.


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  1. Peggy
    2:21 am on July 24th, 2009

    Thanks for reporting the panels. Wish I could have been there!

  2. Paul
    6:18 am on July 25th, 2009

    More on the real Philo T. Farnsworth: Why, you could even read the book (sorry, not a comic…hmmmm)

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